The Woman in the Trees by Theoni Bell was a Catholic fiction recommendation from Twitter of all places. This is an historical fiction novel.
The book was billed as Catholic fiction of the only approved Marion Apparition in America. That isn’t quite true. The story is much more an exploration of growing in faith loosely related to the apparition and the young woman involved.
I went to Catholic school for the majority of my academic career and not once did this come up, nor the Peshtigo Fire of 1871. The Marion Apparition and the Peshtigo Fire are tied together. The fire occurred the same day as the great Chicago fire and thus has mostly been forgotten by history.
The protagonist of the novel immigrates with her family from Belgium as a young girl and they eventually settle in what will become Door County Wisconsin. As she grows up, she struggles to learn and find her faith as a young Catholic after her mother refuses religious instruction by Adele Brise. Adele Brise is the young woman to whom The Blessed Virgin appeared.
The chapel and convent Adele founds is where surrounding farmers and citizens flee when the fire rages. As people slip their young children into wells to protect them from smoke and flames, adults pray as fire rages around the convent. When the fire dies out, the 500 acres comprising the convent are untouched and there is zero loss of life.
The power of prayer and releasing your burdens, fear, and frustrations to God is the message of the novel. As a Catholic it resonated with me and I imagine most non-Catholics would be moved by the story.
That being said, it wasn’t what I was expecting. I wanted the story of Adele. It wasn’t bad by any means but it wasn’t what it was billed to be, which is NOT the fault of the author. I would have easily read this novel as a teenager. It isn’t overly complicated or unaccessible to a younger reader.
Four stars out of five stars.